Asbestos is naturally occurring material that has been banned from use in the UK for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, prior to be banned it was a substance that was commonly used for a wide range of construction and decorating purposes in residential, commercial and industrial properties.

The material is banned because exposure to asbestos fibres can be harmful to human health – especially if that exposure is significant and occurs over a long period of time. Naturally, then, it can be very concerning if you believe that you have found asbestos in your property or place of work. Being exposed to the fibres can be serious – so how do you tell if you have been exposed?

In this blog we’ll take a look at asbestos, why it is dangerous, and how to tell if you have been exposed to it, as well as what you should do.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos had been used in construction for many years thanks to its many beneficial qualities. Through the 1950s to the 1970s especially, asbestos was extremely commonly used in construction as well as in a range of decorating products such as sprays like Artex and in various types of ceiling and floor tiles. The material was often turned into powder and then mixed into cement in order to improve its strength.

As such, asbestos is still quite commonly found in older properties across the UK. It is dangerous because when the material is disturbed, fibres are able to get into the air where they can be breathed into the lungs. Once in the lungs they are very difficult to remove, and can cause lasting damage.

One aspect that makes asbestos especially dangerous is that symptoms of asbestos exposure do not generally appear until years after the exposure takes place.

Conditions associated with asbestos

If asbestos fibres are inhaled, they can cause very serious health problems – indeed, some of the conditions can be fatal. As mentioned above, the symptoms of these conditions do not tend to appear for years after the exposure, at which point it is impossible to do anything about them.

The risk is cumulative – not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will suffer an asbestos-related illness, but exposure from an early age, and over a long period of time, is associated with greater risk. Some of the illnesses that asbestos exposure can cause include:

  • Asbestosis (scarring of the lungs or pulmonary fibrosis)
  • Mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lungs)
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer
  • Pleural thickening of the lungs and chest walls

How to tell if you have been exposed

Given that there are no initial symptoms of asbestos exposure, it can be difficult to tell immediately if you have been exposed. If you live in a property that contains asbestos, or you work in an environment where you are likely to come into contact with the substance, you are at a higher degree of risk.

If you have found a substance you believe may be asbestos, or contains asbestos, in a property in which you live or work, it is essential to have an asbestos survey carried out as soon as possible. Asbestos surveys examine a property and look for asbestos, taking samples and testing as necessary.

Asbestos can look identical to harmless materials and vice versa, so it is important to have a survey carried out to establish whether or not asbestos is present.

Who is likely to be exposed?

People working in specific industries and in older buildings are likely to be at the greatest risk of asbestos exposure. Although it should be pointed out that if you undertake any work in any property, your employer has a duty of care to manage and minimise your risk of exposure to asbestos.

Some professions have a naturally higher risk of exposure to asbestos, simply because the material was more commonly used in the construction of their workplaces. These include:

  • Construction workers
  • Maintenance workers
  • Demolition workers
  • Industrial workers
  • Engineers
  • Power plant or chemical workers

What to do if you think you have been exposed

If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, you should leave the area immediately. Remove the clothes you were wearing, wash them, and wash yourself to remove any remaining fibres. You should also contact your employer, or in the case that the asbestos is in your home, the environmental health officer at your local council.

You can also work with asbestos professionals to have the asbestos removed or the risk minimised. If you are interested in working with asbestos specialists, the team at Crucial Environmental would be happy to help. Contact us today if you believe you have found asbestos or you require any kind of asbestos-related services.